Support for LGBTQ youth is desperately needed. The growing acceptance for this community is definitely a step forward, but there is still such a long way to go before LGBTQ youth are recognized for who they are… a person.
My personal journey of acceptance.
Admittedly, coming of age as a straight person in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, I did not understand the LGBTQ community. I was not alone. It was commonplace to call someone “fag” or “queer” if you didn’t like them. Supporting LGBTQ people meant others would think that you were gay and subject you to ridicule as well.
Like so many straight kids, I generally kept quiet. I simply did not know much about the topic. It was difficult to accept what I didn’t understand. Thinking back, I knew who the gay people around me were and I really liked them. But I was not the ally I could have been.
There were not many opportunities to learn more. LGBTQ people around me couldn’t admit their sexual orientation. It was an era of suppression.
People use rationalizations to justify suppression.
For people we do not know or we feel threatened by, myths and lies are easily created or accepted. For attitudes towards the LGBTQ community, rationalizations for suppression include:
- They are different than me. If LGBTQ people are so fundamentally different from me, then they must not be “normal.” Sometimes the word “perverted” is used.
- They rattle my perspective. To accept someone different raises questions about one’s own worldview.
- They are a threat to my identity. Accepting the sexuality of others means you may have to question your own sexuality.
More people today compared to past decades understand that LBGTQ and straight people share more commonalities than have differences. But the LGBTQ community still faces discrimination and hatred.
A lack of acceptance is harmful to us all, but I believe that the group paying the largest price during this transitional period of acceptance is the LGBTQ youth. They have a unique set of challenges that can hinder healthy development.
- Many are rejected by their family, which leads to a high percentage of homelessness among LGBTQ youth.
- Negative attitudes toward LGBTQ youth place them at higher risk for physical and mental abuse.
Because of these challenges, there is an increased rate of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and suicide among LGBTQ youth. Drug and alcohol abuse is common among LGBTQ youth.
Caring for youth means caring for all youth, including providing support for LGBTQ youth.
For me, the easiest way to understand anyone different than me is to get to know them. By listening objectively, you understand that they are not that different than you.
The Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA) has a training that is really helpful in developing an understanding of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth. The training, LGBTQ Youth: What You Need To Know, is led by a gay male who explains what it is like for LGBTQ youth in a manner that is incredibly human and non-threatening.
I encourage you to watch it. While I had already come to accept sexualities alternative to my own before this training, it reinforced my belief that we are all simply human beings looking for love and happiness.
The time has arrived for all of us to challenge our biases and accept young people for who they are and not what we think they should be. It means fully embracing and providing support for LGBTQ youth.
They, like all youth, are too precious an asset to do anything otherwise. It means being on the right side of history.
Paul Meunier is the Executive Director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA)